Cities all over the world are facing serious challenges in areas such as rapid growth, sustainability initiatives, health and accessibility. Focusing on pedestrians can make a real difference, as the Walk 21 Rotterdam programme makes clear. This international pedestrians’ conference, which hosts around 180 speakers, will be held from 7 to 10 October and will bring together politicians, urban planners, administrators and academics from around the world to inspire and learn from each other.

Today, the organisation is announcing the final programme and all the speakers. One of those speakers is Lucy Saunders, director of Healthy Streets, who has shown how a well-thought-out pedestrian policy can improve residents’ health. Erasmus University Rotterdam is also contributing to the conference. Researcher Giuliano Minguardo will explain why walking is also good for the economy, especially in Rotterdam. Walk21 will both highlight success stories and pay attention to the challenges we face. The full programme is available at Schedule Walk21 Rotterdam.pdf.

Learning from each other

Rotterdam’s growth is putting ever greater pressure on public spaces. “Just think how much space is taken up by parking spaces today,” says alderwoman Judith Bokhove, who has the portfolio Mobility, Youth and Language. “We could recover a lot of that space, for instance by focusing more on car sharing. Then you can use that space for green areas or wider pavements. Promoting walking makes a difference to so many different targets, for example keeping the city accessible, achieving climate goals and improving air quality.”

Rotterdam is organising Walk21 to find out what other cities are doing to make walking more attractive, and the city has more than enough examples of its own pedestrian policy to share. Take the area in front of Central Station, for example, and the renovation work taking place on Coolsingel; the broad boulevards at that location create the necessary space for traffic travelling at different speeds. Since cities around the world are facing similar challenges, Bokhove recognises the importance of learning from each other.

Changing behaviour

During the congress a lot of attention will be paid to changing behaviour. Bokhove sees this as one of the most important topics for the next few years. “Walking is the connection between your bicycle or public transport and your destination. We want to encourage people to leave the car at home by making the last part of the journey fast, easy and safe. A car is still often seen as a status symbol, even though these days it makes much more sense to see a healthy lifestyle as a status symbol.”

National Walking Agenda: ‘Room for walking’

During the conference week the whole of Rotterdam will be characterised by walking, and there is also national interest in the topic. Wednesday 9 October will see the signing of the National Walking Agenda Ruimte voor lopen (‘Room for walking’): a joint initiative by several provinces and local authorities, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and various different interest groups and educational organisations.

About Walk21

Walk21 is an international foundation that aims to safeguard and promote a pedestrian-friendly environment in cities. During the conference, politicians, urban planners, administrators and academics from around the world will come together to learn from and inspire each other. In recent years Walk21 has been held in cities such as New York, Calgary, Melbourne and Bogota.